I did it. I watched all the best heats from 2016 and made a "Best Of" list. A list to be analyzed, enjoyed and recognized as the greatest ranking of the 2016 WSL CT ever (and the only one?).
The 2017 World Surf League season kicks off on March 14, 2017 at the Gold Coast. New rookies will be aiming to make their mark. And Kelly Slater going into his 27th year on tour and has vowed to give it one last college try.
But before the 2017 season starts, let's take a look back at the 2016 Championship Tour. Here were the guidelines I used to get started: high scores, quantity of waves, display of progression and overall intensity.
Ranking the 2016 Championship Surf Tour
1. Billabong Pro Tahiti
2. Fiji Pro
3. Billabong Pipe Masters
4. J-Bay Open
5. Rip Curl Pro Bells
6. Oi Rio Pro
7. Hurley Pro Trestles
8. Margaret River Pro
9. Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal
10. Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
11. Quiksilver Pro France
BEST HEATS 0F 2016
1. BILLABONG PRO TAHITI
Medina. Florence. The rivalry of the future. There's nothing more we, the fans, want to see than these two prodigies clash. Are you NOT entertained? The world stage awaits the continuation of the best rivalry in surfing since Slater and Irons.
Semifinals: Gabriel Medina (19.23) vs. John John Florence (19.66) (John gets 4 nines)
- Rd 4 Heat 2 Kelly Slater (18.30} vs. Bruno Santos (18.17)
- Quarterfinals Heat 2 Kelly Slater (19.27) vs. Bruno Santos (17.43)
- Rd 3 Heat 10 Julian Wilson (16.03) vs Jeremy Flores (14.77)
- Kelly Slater’s perfect heat (20.0) against Keanu Asing
- Slater scores four 10’s in the event
2. FIJI PRO
Taj’s last heat. A fitting way to say farewell to the fiery fellow from Western Australia. Taj made two incendiary turns (at 5:19, then again at 8:41), but still couldn’t hold off John John and his full head of steam.
Rd 3 Heat 10 - John John Florence (18.76) vs. Taj Borrow (18.60) - Taj’s Last Heat
Round 4 Heat 4 - John John Florence, 16.43 vs. Adrian Buchanan – 15.16 vs. Matt Wilkinson, - 16.56
3. BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS
Kanoa Igarashi surfed a masterful heat against Jordy Smith - which did more than advance him to the next round - it determined the fate of his friend, Zeke Lau, and granted him a berth onto the Tour. With a near 10 point ride, Igarashi, the kid from Huntington Pier, put an exclamation point on his freshman year on tour.
Quarterfinals - Kanoa Igarashi (18.03) Vs. Jordy Smith (15.74)
Semifinals - Kelly Slater (15.0) vs. Kanoa Igarashi (15.5)
Round 5 Heat 4 - Jordy Smith (18.10 ) vs Nat Young (16.17)
4. J-BAY OPEN
The premier right hand point break on tour delivered rippable head high+ walls throughout the entire contest. All eyes were on Mick Fanning, awaiting his return to J-Bay since his shark encounter in the 2015 Finals. There were no sightings of the "landlord" this time, but Mick brought his tactician style and aggressive flow that judges score plentifully - they're not wrong.
Finals - Mick Fanning 17.70 vs. John John Florence 17.13
Round 4 Heat 2 - Kelly Slater (18.07) vs. Michel Bourez (17.67) vs. Alejo Muniz (10.50)
5. Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
Bells woke up this year. Its semi-truck sized walls begged to be tagged by the two heaviest hitters on tour, Jordy Smith and Michel Bourez. On a wave that tends to lack the steepness required for vertical surfing, Smith and Bourez demonstrated spectacular gravity-defying finishing maneuvers on the wave's heaving lip - table stakes for high scores at Bells.
QuarterFinals Heat 4 - Jordy Smith (17.77) vs. Michel Bourez (17.26)
6. OI RIO PRO
Brazil. It's a hot place in more ways than one -- the sun, the people, the aggression. The spirit of Rio flows into the lineup and ignites fireworks in quick short bursts of waves. One or two maneuvers can land a very high score. This year, history was made when Gabriel Medina landed the first ever backflip in competition (below in Honorable Mentions).
Finals - John John Florence (18.97) vs. Jack Freestone (16.13)
Gabriel Medina (19.40) vs. Alex Ribeiro (7.90) (Medina’s backflip 4:43)
7. HURLEY PRO AT TRESTLES
Have you ever shared a dessert with friends? You get a couple bites, but it wasn't quite enough. That was this year's Trestles. You crave sweet airs by your favorite punters like Toledo, Florence, Andino... a few more spoonfuls of that would've made this year more satisfying - maybe in 2017.
Rd 3 Heat 7 - Gabriel Medina 17.13 vs. Tanner Gudauskas 17.34
Round 4 Heat 2 - Filipe Toledo 14.50 vs. Kolohe Andino (15.60) vs. Brett Simpson (14.14)
8. MARGARET RIVER PRO
We all wanted to see Jack Robinson at the Box again this year, but it wasn’t in the cards due to the conditions. So instead, we got to enjoy solid 4-6 foot Main Break with stiff off-shore winds providing barrel sections and shreddable faces. At the end of the day, Seabass gouged his way to victory with powerful, iconic Kauai style.
Final - Julian Wilson (16.67) vs. Sebastian Zietz (17.40)
- Round 2 Heat 5 - Adrian Buchanan (18.00) vs. Dusty Payne (17.93)
- Round 1 Heat 12 - John John Florence (18.87) vs. Adrian Buchanan (15.27) vs. Sebastian Zietz (13.20)
- Rd 3 Heat 10 Sebastian Zietz (17.73) vs. Jeremy Flores (16.20)
9. MEO RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL
A fan favorite destination for its unique culture, light crowds and lush scenery . The premier break, Supertubos, holds promise of grinding drainers and late drops into the tube. John John Florence sealed his World Title Championship in the Semifinals, then proceeded to the Finals and put on a victory-lap schooling with the swagger of a newly minted World Champ.
Semifinals Heat 2 - Connor Coffin (15.00) vs. Jordy Smith (14.37)
John John Florence (16.67) vs. Connor Coffin (9.93) (John's alley-oop victory lap at 2:10)
9. Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
The Goldie was a sloppy small mess, rarely showing the teeth we hope to see from Snapper Rocks. Wilko flashed moments of backhand wizardry. But it was a rookie, Stu Kennedy who stole the show with a new surfboard, the Firewire Sci-Fi. Has there ever been a better surfboard marketing campaign? On his rookie year, he took out giants like Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina and Sebastian Zietz? Kennedy is back on tour in 2017.
Round 4 Heat 3 - Kolohe Andino 16.10 vs. Adrian Buchan 15.74 vs. Sebastian Zietz 15.33
Round 4 Heat 12 - Stu Kennedy (16.80) vs. Gabriel Medina (16.53)
11. QUIKSILVER PRO FRANCE
Nobody wants to be in the friend zone, but that's where nice guys end up. To see smiling Keanu Asing breakout and get a victory in France was like watching a metamorphosis from a nice guy to a James Bond lady magnet. But the truth was -- conditions were lackluster and the Final was decided by an interference. So France ended up ranking in our bottom spot.
Another brightside, the young gun, Leo Fiorovanti, took out Kelly Slater in Round 2. We look forward to seeing more of Fioravanti, as he launches his rookie year in 2017.
Round 4 Heat 2 - Filipe Toledo (18.50) vs. John John Florence (18.47) vs. Stu Kennedy (12.03)
OVERALL 2016 WSL TOUR GRADE: B
Looking at the tour as a whole, the WSL has greatly improved the production value with better site functionality, higher quality streams, and better storytelling. The level of talent is through the roof and the level of competition is higher than ever. However, this year lacked the conditions we've seen in the past and, really, only two stops, Tahiti and Fiji, had excellent waves start to finish--surprising, really, because it was the end of an El Nino year and the ocean was no less active. This all leads up to 2017, which has the potential to be monumental, if Mother Nature cooperates - the level of performance will blow minds.
***BONUS PRO TIP***
Make your own surf movie. Take these clips and click "Add to" on YouTube. Put them in a folder that you name "Best of WSL 2016". Boom - throw on in the background next time you're chilling with friends.
Report by Ross Cauvel